Ford opens London car-share program to the public

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

After a five-month test phase, Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday it was offering a car-sharing service to the public in London.

Called GoDrive, the service offers one-way rides with guaranteed parking. Drivers use a smartphone app to reserve a car — half of the fleet consists of Focus Electric cars — and can pay by the minute.

“People are becoming increasingly open to new means of mobility,” Ken Washington, Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering, said in a statement. “Car sharing is proving to be an appealing model.”

Now that GoDrive is in a beta phase, Ford is offering the service free to the first 2,000 customers who sign up. They’ll get 50 cars across 20 locations in London. Features are still being added based on feedback.

The Dearborn automaker launched a pilot version of the service in January as part of 25 mobility experiments around the world designed to study transportation trends.

Fourteen of the 25 experiments are Ford-led research projects, and 11 are part of the company’s Innovate Mobility Challenge Series, in which it called on innovators and developers around the world to create solutions for mobility challenges, like congested cities.

Ford is also working on car-sharing in Germany, India and Dearborn.

Its German car-sharing service launched two years ago, and recently expanded to 40 dealers in 67 cities with 135 locations. In India, Ford’s working with a partner on a service that would let small groups, such as co-workers, apartment dwellers and families, share a vehicle.

The Dearborn experiment deals with car-swapping. It lets Ford employees access a number of fleet vehicles based on their needs, and swap it for a different vehicle when those needs change.

Manufacturers including BMW AG and Daimler AG have been building city-based sharing programs that offer rentals by the minute for drivers who want to drive a car occasionally without owning one. Their numbers are growing: Car-sharing may be as much as a 5.6 billion euro ($6.1 billion) a year industry by 2020, according to a December study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants GmbH.

The U.K. has been a tough market, however. Daimler’s Car2Go service pulled out because of a lack of demand last year. Ford predicts that in the U.K. the car-sharing sector will grow 23 percent between 2013 and 2025.

Bloomberg News contributed.